We talked in the fall about how to rake leaves safely and making the object, the rake, are part of you.
Now that we are in winter and actually getting snow again, let’s talk about shoveling.
There are several things to take into consideration with snow shoveling. It’s not just about shoveling. It’s also about the cold, your fitness level, warming up, taking breaks, how you shovel.
Consider the 1st issue: cold temperatures. When you are out in the cold, physiologically the blood vessels constrict, increasing blood pressure. Your muscles also contract to maintain body temperature, as we discussed in the last newsletter. This can create spasms. When you have a spasm it limits your movement capability.
This is just dealing with the cold temperatures. The increased blood pressure can make you a candidate for higher risk of heart attack or cardiac event if you have other medical complications.
Now you are adding extreme exertion by adding to it the workload of digging heavy snow. It is also hard to stop because “you just want to get it done and over with” or you only have 1 section left to shovel. So you have a combination of cold, extreme exertion, and staying out longer than you should.
That’s the physiological side of snow shoveling, but what about the physical side: your fitness level, taking breaks, and the mechanics of shoveling.
Many people injure their backs due to not using correct body mechanics and not taking enough breaks. Fatigue sets in and the muscles have an even harder time engaging and then the mechanics change.
Here are some tips to get you safely through the snow:
There are 2 different ways you can shovel: 1. you can just push the snow away without lifting or 2. you lift a small amount to toss it.
1. think of how you should push a grocery cart or the lawnmower. Keep your body upright, have the handle against your body, and just walk forward. When you reach your “destination”, say the end of the sidewalk, and you need to get the snow off the sidewalk, change your body position to face the direction you want to “dump” the snow, using the same mechanics.
2. When lifting the shovel, you have a heavy weight at the end of a long lever arm. This will be counteracted by your back. To preserve your back: transfer your weight from the back foot to the front when placing snow on the shovel, keep your knees bent and most important keep your spine straight! Hold the handle as close to the bottom of the shovel as possible and do not put so much snow on the shovel that you are straining. Straighten to the erect position as though someone has pushed you up from the bottom of your buttocks then turn your whole body (including your feet) in the direction you will throw the snow.
Take breaks maximum every 5 minutes or less. Breathe!! Exhale when your are exerting a force, e.g. lifting the shovel with snow. Tighten your lower abdominals to support the spine. If you need to get more support, start with tightening your pelvic floor muscles then the lower abdominals. Remember to not only warmup before shoveling, but also cool down after. Lie on a foam roller to decompress the spine after shoveling.
In conclusion, if you have any medical complications – diabetes, cardiac issues, blood pressure issue, sedentary lifestyle – do not shovel snow. Stay on the safe side. To prevent physical issues, follow the steps outlined in this blog. Worst comes to worst, give your ego a juicebox and put it in the corner, and hire the local teenager to shovel you out!
Still have aches and pains you can’t get rid of or unsure of your mechanics to keep you from injury, click here to schedule a Free 20 minute Discovery call to discuss your issues and how we can help you to enjoy the winter months safely.
To Your Health,